Reading the News: North Korea

There has been a great deal of saber-rattling about North Korea lately, and the presidential Twitter account certainly seems to be encouraging it. If you’re looking for resources to better understand the current crisis, here are some suggestions:

  • Brothers at War, by Sheila Miyoshi Jager, is a readable, comprehensive history of the conflict between North and South Korea, as well as the involvement of the United States.
  • Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick, describes life in North Korea today. It’s drawn from interviews with defectors, and it is unputdownable. Fascinating and heartbreaking.
  • The Orphan-Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson, is a fictional look at North Korea. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. It’s important to keep in mind that this book is fiction; you can’t assume it’s an accurate portrayal of life in North Korea. But it’s one of the best books I know for helping me think about what life in a totalitarian regime really feels like.
  • Black Flags, by Joby Warrick, is about the rise of ISIS and may seem like an odd choice for a list of books about the crisis in North Korea. But since the president does seem to be enthusiastically sounding the trumpets of war, I think it’s important to look back at the mistakes that the U. S. government made in the Middle East under Bush and Obama that led to the emergence of ISIS. A second ISIS arising out of the ashes of Korea is something we should want to avoid at all costs.
  • Thirteen Days, by Robert F. Kennedy, is the classic insider’s account of what happened when the Kennedy administration faced a potential nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union in 1962. Of course there is not a one-to-one relationship between the Cuban Missile Crisis and today’s North Korean situation, but I think it’s instructive to look back and consider how and why the Kennedy administration responded as it did.

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